One of the first victims of last week’s Brexit vote could be the proposed transatlantic trade pacts between the European Union and Canada and the United States. At least, the chances for both seemed to dim on Tuesday after the European Commission moved to adopt the controversial agreements without a public vote.
The proposal by European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker would have the commission adopt by a vote of the 28-member countries the so-called TTIP and CETA proposed agreements with the United States and Canada. But Mr. Juncker’s plan — a defiant power grab in the wake of the Brexit vote — may prove politically unacceptable for E.U. members wary of further alienating right-wing populist movements.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she opposed Mr. Juncker’s plan to adopt the agreements directly without public votes in the parliaments or referenda in the 28 countries. The Juncker plan seemed to reflect fear that some E.U. countries would likely reject the agreements in national votes in the wake of Brexit.
On Tuesday evening, Mr. Juncker had told E.U. leaders that the trade treaty between Europe and Canada need not be ratified by each of the bloc’s national parliaments.
However Ms. Merkel, also in Brussels to meet outgoing British Prime Minister David Cameron, insisted that Germany must put the pacts to a vote in the Bundestag. Both agreements face an uphill battle in Germany, where interest groups have rallied opposition to deals they claim will reduce national health and safety standards.
Vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel called Mr. Juncker’s remarks “unbelievably foolish” in an interview with German daily newspaper Tagesspiegel. He warned that if the European Commission were to push through CETA, TTIP would be dead. Mr. Gabriel worries that given the current mood in Europe, people would focus more on the fact that national parliaments aren’t involved than on CETA itself, if it were to be ratified only by the Commission.
Fears are growing that popular opposition to the treaties could block the European Union’s scope to proceed in the trade agreements.
“The problem now is that the public has woken up to these agreements,” Professor Lorand Bartels, an expert in international law and trade treaties at the university of Cambridge, told Handelsblatt Global Edition. “Now, parliaments have to be seen to listen to the people. That’s what’s changed,” he said.